Gee, it’s some savagery. Bee keeping is husbandry and all the distasteful tasks that goes with that word but I know some beekeepers who approach hives like a ninja or a tai chi guru. Their walk, their movements, even their talk, flows gently. Their bees seem to appreciate this. I’ve also seen beginner beekeepers who shudder if even one single bee gets squished. I wonder if they had the heart or stomach to become a fully-fledged beekeeper?
I’ve been blessed from birth with clumsiness and awkwardness. Taking things slowly and gently requires my full concentration and years of practice but still I trip and trap. Yes, despite my best efforts, bees sometime do get caught between my brood boxes and supers and get squished!
My bees occasionally get angry and try to sting me and if not successful, they die trying. Judging from my previous posts you would think that this happens a lot even though it doesn’t, but angry bees do provide some of the best blog posts!
My clumsy efforts pale in significance to the butchery and brutality of bees in Autumn. Drones. Poor drones. I imagine them as princes lounging around on Chaise Lounges constantly surrounded with female worker bees grooming and feeding them. They even have a fluffy, regal fur cape draped across their shoulders, if you look closely.
The Drone’s main task is to mate and sacrifice their life in doing so. What thanks do they get? After their summer of being pampered they are brutally culled in the Autumn!
Cull – word origin Middle English: from Old French coillier, based on Latin colligere, from col- ‘together’ + legere ‘choose or collect’. Oxford Learners Dictionary
Cull…to reduce or control the size of (something, such as a herd) by removal (as by hunting or slaughter) of especially weak or sick individuals Merriam Webster dictionary
The culling of drones in the autumn was quickly passed over in the bee books I read in the early days of my beekeeping. It was also carefully glossed over and never discussed in any depth at any of the workshops or lectures I attended. So, when someone recently asked me just how bees are culled, it stopped me in my tracks. I had to do a bit of research.
Here are some of my findings.
If pollen supplies coming into the colony are terminated, then drones are evicted;
Drones that reach adulthood may be evicted from the colony by the worker bees in the late fall or when foraging conditions are Poor. The honeybee queen influences the regulation of colony drone production
The following are some of the responses to my question on a couple of beekeeping forums. (I hope they don’t mind me printing these here).
• As you move through July, August and into September you will notice a huge reduction in the numbers of drone cells being populated with eggs- this is part of the natural reduction.
Read no further if you are squeamish…
• Wings chewed and chucked out
• They just seem to get bullied by the workers and pushed out of the entrance. Presumably they aren’t let back in and starve or die of cold.
• I saw mine last week for 48hrs basically barricade the entrance while others dragged them out. Was brutal to watch in a way. Large pile of dead drones in front of the hive that the hedgehogs are enjoying! Circle of life.
• We watched the workers sting many of them, but they were the lucky drones! We saw workers biting the drones wings off, biting at the front leg joints, and we saw the workers bite the antennas of the drones off! It’s not a great life being a man bee.
Here is more formal and academic research which includes evidence of cannibalisation!
Drone honey bees – rearing and maintenance NSW Agriculture states If pollen supplies coming into the colony are terminated, then drones are evicted…
Drone larvae are cannibalised if the needs of the hive requires. How the drone larvae are identified and it implications are discussed in Cannibalism of diploid drone larvae in the honey bee (Apis mellifera) is released by odd pattern of cuticular substances.
The honeybee queen influences the regulation of colony drone production states that a colony’s regulation of drones may be achieved not only by the workers, who build wax cells for drones and feed the larvae, but also by the queen, who can modify her production of drone eggs.
The above article also confirms that ….…
the drones that reach adulthood may be evicted from the colony by the worker bees in the late fall or when foraging conditions are poor.
In The Hive and the Honey Bee (2015) Stanley Schneider estimates that spring and summer drones live approximately 3–5 weeks. But he also points out that the longer-lived drones are the ones that failed to mate with a queen.